Rifle to Resume: The Transition from Military to Corporate America

Many of those who have served under estimate that transition from when you leave the service to when you actually step foot inside a private or public company for your first interview.  Rewind to January 2004 and I was no exception. After serving four years as a logistics manager and spending some time in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was virtually clueless on how I should prepare myself for what we would call “the civilian world”. As scary as this sounds, I embarked on a journey that took me through the US Army’s ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program), through buying my first suit at Dillard’s in Lawton, Oklahoma to my first job as a car salesman in Orlando which lasted a whopping two weeks.

Armed with my college credits that I obtained while in service, along with my ACAP resume and portfolio, I exited the military thinking the transition would be rather easy. I thought to myself that employers would be eager to grant interviews once they saw my military experience. Top that off with my cool “I love me book” and I thought I was golden.  This was really the complete opposite of what I experienced. After I drove out of the state of Oklahoma and settled down in Orlando, it took many months for me to find my first full-time job. I began to resume my college coursework online and eventually became an employee of Frito Lay a division of PepsiCo Corporation.  In many ways, my position at Frito Lay emulated my military career. The hours were long as I would start my day at 4am, and would not come home until 6-7pm at night. I was constantly on the road in my box truck, and I was very active. The work kept me in shape as I delivered product, built marketing displays, and loaded and unloaded trucks on a daily basis. I also had to remind myself that I was not in the military anymore so I needed to soften my approach a bit, and understand and use diplomacy at all times. Aside from the long hours, I would then come home at night and study to obtain my Bachelor’s degree and eventually my MBA. The usual 55-70 hour weeks along with 30 hours of weekly study kept me quite busy for the next year and half. I was working toward my ultimate goal of landing a job as a project manager and eventually a corporate accounting role.

For those of you who have served and are thinking about getting out of the military or already have begun the transition, please allow me to offer the following advice:

  1. Be proactive and Do Not Wait… The Army ACAP program starts you 6-months prior to your contract end date. I would start on your own a year out..
  2. Pick a career and stick with it! Try to use transitioning skills if possible.
  3. Start working on your resume and be sure you understand how to transition military lingo to corporate jargon.
  4. Education, education, education… I cannot stress this enough. Take as many courses as you can and if possible, leave the military with your degree already in hand. You will have a significant competitive advantage.
  5. Network as soon as you can. Build your contacts via word of mouth, social media, Careerbook, etc..
  6. Buy yourself a nice suit to wear to your interviews.
  7. Also invest in a book to help you understand what type of questions you will be asked during an interview and how to answer them.
  8. Most importantly- Prepare yourself for the journey and know that with the right mindset, and the tips I offered above you will succeed and find that perfect career!